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A beautiful ‘reluctant’ cottage garden in Somerset
ACOTTAGE garden was never on the cards for the plot surrounding Sue o’Brien’s farmhouse. Her preference has always been for structure, shape and form, although that’s not to say she doesn’t enjoy flowers too.
the garden, with its different rooms linked by vistas, has been 28 years in the making. Work got underway shortly after Sue and her husband Richard moved to Babbs Farm — parts of which date back to the georgian era.
“My starting point was deciding the atmosphere I wanted to create,” says Sue, of Highbridge in Somerset. “People tell me that my garden is very restful and relaxing and that’s exactly what I wanted.
“I am not a cottage-garden person: I prefer structure and am more interested in the shape and form of a plant, its overall habit and the style of its leaves. I do plant for colour, but it’s secondary.
“When we moved in, there was a small garden here and some fields. We began around the house, with its southfacing walled patio and patches of lawn, and moved outwards, improving the soil as we went.
“early on we took out a conifer hedge and huge old cypress. I wasn’t keen on the privet hedge that was here, either, but realised it was a windbreak, although it’s now a different shape.”
Design undoubtedly pulls the garden together, although Sue says she’s often had to try different approaches before her ideas come to fruition.
one example of this is the formal box parterre, with her first attempt not living up to her expectations.
“I tried it and it didn’t work, so it remained a wilderness for several years,” she laughs. “then we tried again in 2010, putting in 486 plants.”
Another feature is the J-shaped pond. “I wanted something to complete the view we had from our patio,” explains Sue. “I saw a chelsea garden designed by chris Beardshaw with a rill and narrow borders, and decided we would do it here, but it just didn’t work.
“I left it for two or three years and was going to fill it in, but a friend reflected that the garden was full of curves and that I should try a different shape.”
Inspiration for planting schemes has come from a variety of sources, with Beth chatto among Sue’s early gardening influences.
“I love her plant combinations and have taken her advice about planting in threes: each group is made up of three strong plants with different shapes or contrasting leaves,” she explains. Sue scours plant catalogues for new plants, and this year she’s extended her collection of salvias and has enjoyed trying out different echinanceas. She says: “Work on the garden never stops.”
“People tell me my garden is restful”
Put in place a strong structure so that flowering plants really stand out. Evergreens such as euonymus and pittosporum are clipped into routine shapes for maximum impact